|PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch(reviewed)
|August 23rd, 2021
The original King’s Bounty was released in 1990 and returned in 2007 with various sequels and expansions until 2014. The franchise itself is said to be a predecessor to Heroes of Might & Magic specifically. With a proper sequel, the franchise aims to make a comeback just as the XCOM series did in 2012. However, the genre of tactical strategy has flourished in recent years. King’s Bounty II has much more competition to contend with than it did back in the day, especially with a thriving indie scene. After lying dormant for many years, is this official sequel the epic return that 1C Entertainment wants it to be?
Spiritual Content: The game takes place in a high fantasy setting. Players explore a world in which they interact with witches, dragons, golems, and supernatural creatures. Players can use magical abilities in the game and interact with wizards and other characters who have magical powers.
Violence: King’s Bounty II is a turn-based strategy in which players control an army. Your army is composed of swordsmen, spearmen, archers, war dogs, and possibly fantastical creatures. Each battle takes place on a grid, with minimal detail on the action. During an encounter, players will command soldiers and other units to attack and defend themselves against enemy forces. When a unit attacks another, screams of pain accompany the occasional small clouds of blood. Lastly, characters get stabbed during a few of the cutscenes.
Sexual Content: Some suggestive themes occur in the dialogue, such as a character saying they are a master assassin and not a “master of the bedchamber” Then, another piece of dialogue takes place in which one character tells another that they’d throw them on the grass and that it would get “rather personal.”
Drugs/Alcohol: Some characters mention wine and booze, along with discussing drunkards and drunkenness.
Language: The words “bastard” and “a*s” make an appearance in the dialogue.
King’s Bounty II is a tactical strategy game that takes place in the fantasy world of Nostria. As we usually see in these types of stories, the world is facing its darkest hour. The King was poisoned, and it’s up to his son, The Prince, to unite the kingdom. The tactical gameplay occurs during combat encounters, but the world is open for players to explore, collect loot, equip gear, and gather an army. Players can start as one of three characters: Aivar, Katherine, or Elisa. These three characters all have specific classes—Warrior, Mage, Paladin. Each of them has their own backstory and motivations for traveling the world and building an army. On paper, everything I’ve said sounds like a great time, but I had the opposite experience.
When not in battle, you’ll be traveling the world on horseback while picking up sidequests and collecting loot. The idea of traveling to a specific location in that way with a small army gave off Fellowship of the Ring vibes when I first started the game, but much of this world I wanted to explore feels walled off with things I need to do before moving forward. Understandably, the first part of the game felt linear, with very few opportunities to explore and specific battles I had to win to progress. Unfortunately, that is how the entire game is built and is more of a wide-linear progression than a free-roaming open-world experience.
What makes exploring Nostrai even worse is that there isn’t much of a way to grind. You don’t have much choice to do every sidequest that comes your way to level up your character and earn ability points. Many of the concepts in King’s Bounty II are interesting, but the combat prevents everything from being interwoven into a fun experience. Every battle that I engaged in feels like a puzzle. As if I need to be victorious in a specific manner dictated by the game itself rather than a particular strategy that I have developed on my own. Although getting a win can feel rewarding, that type of gameplay design isn’t why I enjoy the occasional tactic strategy game.
What I appreciated most is that engaging in a battle feels like playing a digital board game. The combat takes place on a hexagonal grid, and each unit has a particular turn order they will act on instead of controlling all of yours within one turn. At the beginning of an encounter, you’ll have a chance to place units to your liking in a limited area as well. As with any tactical strategy game, you only have a limited number of actions and spaces to move. However, each encounter feels insanely tricky, and your units will permanently die. I ended up reloading my saves on defeat but losing any units still stung, leaving me searching for more ways to earn gold and replenish my garrison. It’s a shame that gaining currency is difficult without grinding, and loot you find in the world to sell is limited too.
Again, there were parts of King’s Bounty II that I did enjoy. During combat, my favorite tactics were sending in my war dogs as fodder with my wizards and archers playing support in the background as my spearmen deal and take damage. I chose Elisa the Paladin as my starting character, which wasn’t ideal according to the review guide, but I enjoyed healing my units and bringing down rays of light to smite my enemies. Gaining the high ground is also a fun strategy as my ranged units would rain arrows and magical blasts at my foes. So, yes, I did have some moments of fun during my time with the game.
After I spent some significant time with King’s Bounty II, I began to realize that some of the sidequests I was taking part in were more interesting than the overall story—the usual case for an RPG. An early example is when you have to choose sides in a dispute between some dwarves and potential goons, which introduces an alignment/moral system. The other is when you track down a which in the area after she commands someone to send wolves after you. I only wish I could’ve discovered many more sidequests on my own, but most of them seem force-fed to the player. The world of Nostria begs players to explore it because of its RPG mechanics.
Aside from my previous grievances, some of the RPG mechanics and strategy mechanics worked well together. Gaining ability points for your character meant that what you were putting them into was strengthening your abilities while also helping your army. In addition, equipping gear boosts the strength and defense of your army because your character isn’t a controllable unit in battle. Those are a few examples in which I found mechanics from both genres to work well in random with one another. If only the rest of the game could have been the perfect blend of the two.
Lastly, King’s Bounty II is not the best-looking game out there, but the overall presentation helped make my adventure more enjoyable. I don’t believe fully voiced dialogue was needed, but it helped make the game feel much more cinematic. It was easy to find corners of the map that I couldn’t explore, but every piece of the environment was a well-crafted set-piece. In addition, the character models share the same quality, which I find to be an achievement since even some more prolific studios out there can be guilty of creating some eyesores. Properties like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings were an inspiration for these developers, and they seem to have nailed the cinematic fantasy theme.
Since King’s Bounty II got announced during a Nintendo Direct in 2019, I was looking forward to its release. The game runs and performs great and visually looks good on the platform, but more outstanding design issues are afoot. I was looking for a LotR-sized epic adventure but found literal walls of frustration. However, there is a potential for a great video game when you look deeper. The developers wanted this to be a significant comeback for the franchise, but this sequel is far from the next X-COM: Enemy Unknown. I’d recommend looking into Fort Triumph or King Arthur: A Knight’s Tale before making this purchase.
A review copy was kindly provided by Dead Good PR
The Bottom Line
King's Bounty II has the potential to be great, but brings great frustration to what otherwise could have been a grand adventure.